Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
14 Sep 2008
compiled by Doug Farrar and Vince Verhei
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2009. Games are chosen based on our own personal viewing preferences, and are going to reflect the teams we support and the cities where we live.
Bill Barnwell: Greg Olsen fumbles in the Bears game and Jon Beason recovers. It breaks my heart to see the Seventh Floor Crew torn up like this.
Ben Riley: The announcer calling the Bears-Panthers game: "The head coach of Tulane thinks Matt Forte could eventually be as good as Marcus Allen ... or DeShaun Foster!"
Bill Barnwell: This game has been ugly. Carolina has had two illegal formation penalties. Chicago has had multiple holding and block-in-the-back penalties. The game's two biggest plays have been when each team's quarterback threw a hitch-and-go two yards behind their wide receiver and the receiver adjusted in midroute to make the catch.
Here's a sample from my notes: "Bears line up in trips left. Kyle Orton freaks out in shotgun and sprints up to the line and frantically changes the play. He one-hops a quick hitch. Thanks, Kyle Orton! Jonathan Stewart just took over on a drive after Greg Olsen fumbled again. He looks great -- he's breaking like half the tackle attempts thrown at him, and by guys like Urlacher."
Devin Hester's out with what looks like an oblique injury. He pulled up lame after hitting the sidelines and is out -- it didn't seem like a sudden injury where he clutched at his chest, but more of a strain, which is why I figure oblique.
It was a pretty agonizing game till the very end, when on the final two Bears' plays, Orton threw a quick hitch that was nearly picked for a game-ending touchdown, and then Jason McKie lost yardage on fourth-and-1. The only fun thing about the game was Jonathan Stewart, who -- and this is me rejoicing slightly because of his high Speed Score -- looked amazing.
Kevin Payne (not the D.C. United executive or the dead boxer) was impressive as well for the Bears; he got a little excited at times, but he took good angles to the ballcarrier. That makes him better than Adam Archuleta.
Ned Macey: When I saw the Bears gave up 20 points, I assumed their defense had been mediocre. Then I saw they gave up 216 yards and forced 2-for-13 on third down. As for their offense...
Is there any single upgrade in football bigger than Jonathan Stewart for DeShaun Foster?
Ben Riley: I said it before and I'll say it again: Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers will be the defensive rookie of the year. He just drove through a double-team and took (likely offensive rookie of the year) Chris Johnson down in the backfield.
Doug Farrar: Not to pile on a guy who's obviously had a bad week, but that jolting sensation the AFC South is currently feeling is the Titans with a quarterback who can do more than what is found in the "My First Spread Offense Playbook."
Mike Tanier: One note on the 600-mph wind: Great game by Craig Hentrich, the Titans' old punter. With the wind, he rocked a 70-yarder. Protecting a lead, he kicked a bunch of low line drives that went 41 yards and such. Yes, he fumbled a punt early in the game, but he kicked like a veteran late.
Ben Riley: Watching the Packers-Lions game, the announcer just said that "Rodgers scans the field in a Favre-like manner." I can't make stuff like this up.
Bill Barnwell: Does that mean he turned his head and looked for an open receiver? Because, I mean, that is Favre-like.
Doug Farrar: We're waiting for a ruling from the judges as to whether he was "just havin' fun out there like a kid on the sandlot, drawin' up plays in the dirt."
Bill Barnwell: Kregg Lumpkin just ran for 19 yards for the Packers. Who is Kregg Lumpkin?
Ben Riley: I think he's a fullback. Or the bad guy in "Halloween 8: Jamie Lee's Career Is Over."
You know what is not Favre-like? Having second-and-goal at the Lions' 10-yard line, about eight seconds to find a receiver, and then, not finding anyone open, just ... throwing it away. It's only two in the afternoon, but Ted Thompson just poured himself a nice Ardbeg 17 Year Old and is grinning from ear to ear.
Mike Tanier: Basically, Calvin Johnson had a couple of really big plays and the Packers weren't running the ball well, so they couldn't eat clock in the second half. The Packers secondary is pretty thin, and on one of Johnson's touchdowns he was covered by Tramon Williams, which is a mismatch.
Ben Riley: I'd like to thank the Jaguars Cheerleader Costume Designer for trying to single-handedly revive the black-ankle-boots-with-fishnet-stockings-and-aqua-miniskirt look. I think the cheerleaders just did their first routine to "We Got the Beat!"
Will Carroll: Do not post something like this without pictures. I'm serious.
Mike Tanier: I would prefer longer boots and more fishnet-y fishnets on the Jaguars cheerleaders. But that would be nitpicking.
Doug Farrar: I like that Word's spell-check doesn't question the word "fishnet-y."
Bill Moore: We have fumble luck, now David Garrard is seeing the downside of interception luck -- otherwise known as revision to the mean.
Ben Riley: With 14 seconds left in the first half, Jaguars have first-and-10 at the Bills 16. Garrard stares down his receiver before deciding to throw a soft pass to Bills cornerback Terrence McGee. Ugly, ugly play.
Bill Moore: Tie game in the third quarter, and Jack Del Rio calls for an onside kick. I can't determine if that's ballsy or desperate. Or both.
Aaron Schatz: I would like to vote for ballsy. Last year, Del Rio ranked fifth in Aggressiveness Index and went for it on fourth-and-1 more often than any coach in the league. We know that surprise onside kicks are a good risk. Del Rio gets the Stephen Colbert Award for head coach with most gigantic balls.
Ben Riley: I wonder what's going through the mind of Al Davis right now. "Hey, that fast running back I drafted has 110 yards and his first touchdown. On the other hand, now I can't fire my head coach this week. Damn."
Doug Farrar: What's actually going through Al Davis' mind: "Gosh, when did Clarence Davis get so big?"
Ben Riley: Hey, Kansas City has the ball and they are only down by eight with four minutes to play. Al Davis just lowered the shades and asked for Pop Fisher to come up to his office.
Bill Barnwell: Was Huard benched or hurt?
Aaron Schatz: Hurt.
Doug Farrar: Under-reported story with all the usual front-office and coaching shenanigans: The Raiders now have a stellar run game with Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, not to mention Snuggly Bear. McFadden has really impressed me in the way he's gone from more of a straight-line speed guy in college to a back who can roll through traffic and hit that second gear.
Aaron Schatz: Ben, Doug -- did you guys know your guy Justin Forsett was signed by Indianapolis? I had not seen that. He's their kickoff return man now.
Ben Riley: Yes, Forsett was a victim of the Great Wide Receiver Panic that swept through Seattle last week. Of course, it's not like we have two kickers on the roster, so ... oh, wait.
Doug Farrar: Do not get me started on that one. I had been excited about Forsett all the way through preseason, given that I like me some Pocket Herculeses. The Seahawks, using the same offensive personnel acumen that made them throw Steve Hutchinson away and give up a first-round draft pick for Deion Branch, thought they could slip Forsett through waivers. At this point, the fact that their front office doesn't think enough of an offensive player to keep him should be viewed as a breakout indicator.
Will Carroll: On their second series, the Vikings threw another "screen" to Adrian Peterson and for the second time, I'm pretty sure that Tarvaris Jackson threw it backwards. Are they setting up a halfback pass or playing with fire?
Doug Farrar: Tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser has been Jackson's best friend through the first half. The Vikings, as is their wont, have had him up as basically a second left tackle to help Artis Hicks deal with Dwight Freeney. This is fairly common, and especially helpful for Hicks, who's replacing Bryant McKinnie through McKinnie's four-game suspension.
Will Carroll: Alright, there's just no question about it. Peyton Manning is scared every time he drops back. He's not doing anything other than picking a receiver and throwing. The only thing he's doing that's the same as normal is pointing fingers and whining on the sidelines.
Aaron Schatz: The Colts offense looks horrible. Joseph Addai, in particular, is going nowhere. They keep pitching to him outside instead of trying to go up the middle on the Williams brothers, and they're getting nothing.
Your first thought is, "Wow, we've finally discovered that it isn't all Manning, that he does need to have a good offensive line -- or at least some time to practice with his linemen." Then you realize, well, Minnesota might have the best defensive line in the league, so maybe this is more about Minnesota's defense playing well. The only problem with that excuse is that Green Bay managed to move the ball against this same defense last week. Look, you need to have a whole offense, not just a quarterback or a running back. Everyone out there would rather have Peyton Manning than Aaron Rodgers, and most people would take Joseph Addai over Ryan Grant, but there's no question that -- based on watching the two teams play Minnesota -- the Packers offense is much better than the Colts offense right now.
Ben Riley: The Colts defense also looks horrible. Adrian Peterson already has has 72 yards rushing, and the Vikings aren't exactly trying to get clever with their play-calling. Of course, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe just dropped a pass in the end zone -- man, does that guy suck -- so the Vikings are only up by six at the end of the first quarter.
Will Carroll: The Colts have essentially put Anthony Gonzalez in the Dallas Clark role. That's not bad, and wow, does he have great hands. What I don't understand is why the stretch play has just stopped working.
Ben Riley: Have the Vikings always used the scary horn from Lost to get the crowd pumped? I keep waiting for the smoke monster to snake across midfield and yank Peyton into midair. Which would be sweet.
Serious question: what actually constitutes an offensive lineman being offside? I see Peyton doing his chicken dance thing at the line, and everyone on the Colts line breaks out of their stance and starts chatting amongst themselves. They don't flinch per se, but there is movement all over the place. So what is the actual rule?
Aaron Schatz: The other story from this game is the return of the Colts' run defense circa 2005. Unlike the offensive difficulties, this doesn't have a clear target for blame. Yes, he's Adrian Peterson and he's Purple Jesus, but Matt Forte sliced through them last week almost as easily. At least their pass coverage has been good -- Kelvin Hayden has been particularly close in coverage.
Benjy Rose: The Colts' D-line is just getting destroyed. Peterson may be a terrific runner, but I think even DeShaun Foster (who may be as good as Matt Forte) could have 100 yards against this defense.
Doug Farrar: I'd take Matt Forte over several DeShaun Fosters. Eric Bieniemy, the Vikings' running backs coach, was on the NFL Network's Playbook show recently. He talked about how they're trying to get Peterson to slow down just a bit at the handoff, wait for the holes to develop, and avoid over-reliance on his speed before he hits the hole. As bad as Indy's defense has been, I also think we're seeing some of that.
Will Carroll: Through the first half, my fantasy team of Manning, Addai, Chris Johnson, Harrison, and Devery Henderson has scored zero points. Zero.
Doug Farrar: "This is Will Carroll for Loser League Beer. When your fantasy team has gone to crap, you need the cool, refreshing taste of the New Jersey swamps to get you back on track. It's Loser League ... every time. "
Will Carroll: Fantasy guys everywhere are trying to calculate the fantasy points, but Anthony Gonzalez's lateral to Reggie Wayne was both stupid and heady. To help give the Colts some momentum, I think it's worth the risk. Watching the replay, he was looking back ... could that be something they practice?
Brad Childress made a smart challenge to call back the touchdown and keeps fantasy players from trying to figure out that yardage. Maybe Tony Dungy will get an idea on what's a good challenge now that he's seen one.
Doug Farrar: Ouch. Colts fans with one foot off the ledge just heard Dan Dierdorf say, "And Bob Sanders has left the field with an ankle injury..."
Peterson definitely looks more patient out there, waiting for stuff to develop. Scary thought: He can be even better this year. What's one step up from Purple Jesus? Purple God? Purple Drank? Purple Haze? Purple Rain?
Dierdorf is also apoplectic at the Metrodome fans that boo Childress when he reins it in and goes for field goals, and boo Tarvaris Jackson when he throws a worm-burner ten yards behind the intended receiver. Because "the Vikings are winning." Of course, all those goat-balls and empty drives come back to bite the Vikings halfway through the third quarter when the Colts even it up at 15 after the Vikes pitch a shutout in the first half. And there's the obvious lesson: When you're playing a team like the Colts, who can wake up from their spell of suckiness at any time and blow your defense away, having a passing game to counter is a good idea.
Four minutes left in the third quarter, Jackson overthrows Bernard Berrian on third down, and I haven't heard boos like this since I saw John Cougar try to open for The Who in 1982, only to get bottled off the stage for his trouble.
Aaron Schatz: Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning, and Reggie Wayne is still Reggie Wayne. The Colts get the ball back with about seven minutes left and come out three-wide -- but with Wayne in the slot. Now Wayne is going up through the middle of the Vikings' Cover-2. Easy pickings. Three plays. Touchdown, tie score.
Bill Moore: Just prior to that, trying to ice the game on third-and-5, The Vikings run Chester Taylor into the line. Huh? God knows Peterson would have been a bad choice.
Ben Riley (for the tie): If the Vikings lose this game, the KCW committee will have to review Childress's decision to try to convert on third-and-two by calling for a handoff to ... Chester Taylor. Hey coach, maybe go with the guy who's plowed over the Colts for 150 yards and who we are currently trying to create nickname for that is more superlative than Jesus?
(Adam Vinatieri kicks the game-winning field goal as the clock runs down to three seconds. One kickoff later, the Colts escape the Metrodome with a win.)
Aaron Schatz: Wow. I have to put my thoughts together, but Indianapolis had no business winning this game.
Doug Farrar: That was a rough one for Minnesota, but you kind of had a feeling they were going to get head-slapped in the end. The front cover of PFP 2008 says it about as succinctly as it can be said. "Tarvaris Jackson: Stands between Vikings and Super Bowl?" With a real quarterback, this is a team that can make life difficult for any opponent, any time. I hope that spike of potential isn't wasted by a stubborn refusal to realize that they have a win-now team and an incubator quarterback.
Mike Tanier: The Colts threw about a million passes to Tom Santi. The Colts absolutely need to invest in a very good second tight end for their offense to work. Santi is no Ben Utecht, who is no Marcus Pollard when he was young.
Will Carroll: The Colts rave about Jacob Tamme, who they drafted ahead of Santi. Of course, Tamme is injured, like everyone else.
Mike Tanier: The Vikings ran up the middle about 30 times in that game. Peterson is great of course, but man, can their interior line block head-on. It also helps when you are playing an undersized defensive line built to rush the passer.
I really need to watch the Shortcuts to see what the Colts started doing offensively in the second half. One thing I saw was a few pitches to Addai, instead of stretch runs or draws. Pitch the ball, get it on the edge faster, beat those linebackers sitting in the A and B gaps. I want to see how they were springing Wayne and Gonzalez in the second half, though.
Aaron Schatz: The Colts were pitching to Addai all game. They can't run the stretch play because Manning can't get to the edge (because of his knee) and the backup offensive linemen aren't good enough anyway. Those pitches were going nowhere in the first half, and they weren't doing much in the second half either. I really think moving Reggie Wayne to the slot was the big difference.
Ned Macey: The comments are correct about the first-half domination by Peterson and the O-line, but in the second half, Peterson had 42 yards on 15 carries. The only Taylor third-down carry came on a third-and-five after four straight Peterson carries.
My memory says that the Colts had the best third-quarter DVOA defense last year, which is a little odd since they, by reputation, run the most basic defense, which would seem to limit in-game adjustments. But they clearly adjusted again today. Like the 2006 playoffs, it was hard to diagnose what was different other than no longer getting dominated.
Offensively, per Madden last week, the three-wide will always have Wayne in the slot. That seemed true all game today, but they went to more three-wide in the second half. Based on my live observation, the sense was that Minnesota played a lot of man-to-man. In the first half, Manning was getting rid of the ball before his guys could get open. Yes, that was the line, but it also was a quick trigger.
Seemed in the second half that he was waiting the extra half-second. He started feeding Gonzalez, which pulled the defense to the left side, which opened the middle for Wayne. Manning is going to take some hits, but the Colts run best when the receivers can work 10 to 15 yards down the field, not 5 to 10.
I don't want to get into the booing because everyone will tell me it is a fan's right, but really, what's the point? Jackson is the starter, and the home crowd is just killing his confidence. What do they want, Gus Frerotte?
Vince Verhei: It's not like booing is a rational thought. It's an emotional reaction. The point is not to motivate Jackson. It's merely to vent some rage.
Doug Farrar: Sunday NFL Countdown question: Bigger number -- Giants sacks or Rams points? It's sad for St. Louis that there isn't a conclusive answer.
Bill Connelly: Living in Missouri, I guess I should feel honored to get to watch the Rams this year. The next best thing to witnessing historical greatness on a week-to-week basis is witnessing historical ineptitude. I still remember the '97 Rams-Bears game. Worst football game I've ever seen ... or should I say, the greatest bad game I've ever seen.
Doug Farrar: Indeed. Rams fans who mourn the fortunes of the current team should remember the halcyon days of Tony Banks, Lawrence Phillips, and Amp Lee.
Ben Riley: Through two quarters: Giants sacks: 4. Rams points: 3. Expletives uttered by Marc Bulger: 712.
Aaron Schatz: Is it strange for me to say, "Why are the Giants not winning by more?"
Ben Riley: As an increasingly desperate Steven Jackson owner, I've been flipping over to the game. The score does not accurately reflect how pathetic the Rams are. Yes, the offensive line is a complete joke, but even when Bulger manages to find an open receiver, they still manage to drop the ball (I'm looking at you, Dante Hall). The Giants are in complete control of this game.
Sean McCormick: The Rams found something they liked with the quick slant to Torry Holt. Every time I looked up, Bulger was hitting Holt in stride and they were banging out six to eight yards. It seems like Aaron Ross (I think it was Ross) was consistently playing outside technique, so this was wide-open. It may not even have been a play call but rather a simple check-with-me between Bulger and Holt. Steven Jackson was also getting some running room, so the Rams may have been able to hold onto the ball long enough to keep their defense from getting overwhelmed.
I also took the time to watch Chris Long for a few plays. He didn't get any penetration, but the Giants are keeping an extra blocker in to deal with him on passing downs, and on at least one running play he was able to slice under his blocker and deny the cutback lane, dropping Jacobs for no gain.
Bill Barnwell: Josh Brown has hit two 54-yard field goals. So they have that going for them.
Mike Tanier: The Giants were just listless on offense. I think they fell asleep during the game film. They woke up late in the game.
Bill Barnwell: If listless means 441 yards of offense, I don't care if they march around like zombies for three quarters.
Mike Tanier: Nah, I mean they were listless in the first half, not finishing drives, settling for field goals. And Brown kicked those two long field goals and suddenly it looked like a game.
Ben Riley: Bill Barnwell, tell me you were watching the Giants-Rams game and saw the interview of Justin Tuck wherein he confesses his love of He-Man, then raises a plastic sword and yells "By the power of Grayskull!" (And then begs FOX to not to show that portion of the interview.)
Aaron Schatz: Oh God YouTube please come through ... oh God YouTube please come through ... oh God YouTube please come through...
(Note: So far, nobody's come though. Intrepid readers, please let us know if you find this viral video on the interwebs.)
Bill Connelly: Good gracious, is Justin Tuck outstanding. The He-Man thing was 18 steps beyond awkward to watch, but it appears you can count on him to make one sickeningly athletic play a game.
The Rams played over their heads for a bit, but it took about three seconds to go from "We can win this thing" mode to "Wheels off, hubcaps spinning around, full disaster" mode.
Doug Farrar: For the record, the Rams scored 13 points, and the Giants had six sacks.
Mike Tanier: He who crows in Week 2 ... And again, I am well aware that his seven receptions and punt return touchdown have no bearing whatsoever on our bet.
Bill Barnwell: When he starts putting up even 0 DYAR in a week I'll feel worse about it. And hey -- he'd make a fine wide receiver.
Bill Barnwell: Seneca Wallace is out. You have got to be kidding me.
Doug Farrar: Injured his calf in warm-ups. They've been wanting to use him as a receiver. Of course he's out! "Seattle receiver" is the new "Spinal Tap drummer."
Bill Barnwell: I'm convinced the Seahawks are cursed. Logan Payne just got laid out with a helmet right on the knee by Michael Lewis.
Ben Riley: Comment from friend: "If I was an out-of-work receiver and got called by the Seahawks tomorrow, I would turn them down." And get ready for Michael Bumpus Fever!
Doug Farrar: Still, the Seahawks scored a touchdown on their opening drive after reserve defensive back Jordan Babineaux ran for a first down on a blocked punt. That was probably karma on Nate Clements, "The $80 Million Target," for trash-talking receivers who by all rights would be over in NFL Europa if there still was one. It's your job to shut guys like this down, Nate.
Wow. Karma, Part 2 for Seattle halfway through the first quarter. Julian Peterson put up a drive-ending sack on J.T. O'Sullivan, and was promptly flagged on the most ridiculous taunting penalty I've ever seen. Automatic first down for the 49ers, and Frank Gore fumbled on the next play. Craig Terrill picked it up and ran it in after a scrum -- touchdown, Seahawks. Awesome interior penetration by tackle Howard Green, an unsung hero of Seattle's preseason, on that play.
Bill Barnwell: How is that karma? Julian Peterson was a jerk and the Seahawks got lucky?
Ben Riley: Well, Peterson didn't actually taunt O'Sullivan, so that was the karma part.
Doug Farrar: I know Ben and I comprise the League of Seattle Homers, but that call was stupefying. Peterson has this thing he does after a sack where he points to the back of his jersey, as in, "Remember the name and number." It's not going to win him any creativity points, but if that's taunting, the NFL really needs to unclench.
With about six minutes left in the first half, Howard Green sacked O'Sullivan and did a big "sledgehammer" motion. Then, Brandon Mebane did a really interesting belly dancing thing after his sack that Tony Siragusa picked up and started doing, which was traumatic in its own special way. If the NFL Network wants to get the "Big Man Dance Contest" going again, they can start in Seattle. No flag for any of that. I'll say it for the zillionth time: The more judgment calls you give these officials, the more you are asking for trouble.
Bill Barnwell: No, Nate Clements getting beat on a double-move and then having his hands brush up against the ball when he's trying to pull Billy McMullen down by his jersey is not a good play, Daryl Johnston.
(With 1:51 left in the first half, O'Sullivan took a shotgun snap at the Seattle 14. He threw a sideline pattern pass to Isaac Bruce -- a ball that veered on the edge of uncatchable, especially since Bruce appeared to be heading out of bounds and away from the arc of the throw -- that was intercepted by safety Deon Grant. After a three-minute discussion between head official Jerome Boger and two of his crew members, a pass interference call was upheld. The interception was negated, and the 49ers scored on the next play.)
Doug Farrar: Ben, I think you're going to have to explain the pass interference call on Kelly Jennings. My head just exploded.
Ben Riley: See, Doug, what happened is, Isaac Bruce was out of bounds, and it was an uncatchable ball, and Kelly Jennings didn't interfere, and the referees took three minutes to discuss the play. So, it's like a reverse double negative, which means the Seahawks must be penalized.
Doug Farrar: I understand why they called it -- when you look at the swings per crew from contact to interference, it's obvious that the league doesn't do enough to educate its officials on what's what, never mind the concept of "uncatchable." I just don't know what they were talking about all that time.
Ben Riley: Hey Doug, did you know that blocking your guy into the ground is now holding? Pork Chop Womack, who amazingly is not injured through three quarters, was called for holding even though he blocked his defender into the ground.
Doug Farrar: Holding, or the ingredients thereof. The Seahawks threw picks on two straight drives in the third quarter (including the Willis touchdown return), which allowed the 49ers to take the lead, and that's on nobody but them. However, Jerome Boger's crew is also calling a really crappy game.
Bill Barnwell: Patrick Willis just pulled off one of the greatest interception returns you'll ever see. That dude is freaky.
Doug Farrar: I'll say this about Julius Jones: I wasn't in favor of the acquisition, but either he's better than he was in Dallas last year, or the middle of Seattle's line is a lot stronger than it used to be. They're able to run the draws and traps with three- and four-wide that Holmgren likes, with some success. Last year with Shaun Alexander or Maurice Morris, it was a guaranteed drive-stopper.
Mike Tanier: Yup. Benched Julius Jones in two leagues this week. Yup.
Ben Riley: Well, Mike Martz wants in on the KCW action. With about 25 seconds left to play and needing a field goal to win, the Niners decide to let the clock run to three seconds before using their last timeout. Nedney of course pushes the ensuing 41-yard field goal attempt wide right. Why not pound it up the middle for two or three yards? And now we are in overtime.
Aaron Schatz: That's not Martz's choice. I'm sure that's Mike Nolan's choice. Martz is not the head coach.
Doug Farrar: Just to clarify one thing: The Seahawks lost this game, and the officiating was horrible. The Seahawks did not lose this game because the officiating was horrible. The Seahawks lost this game because their fabled, guaranteed top-ten defense gave up a bunch of silly big plays and lost control. That's about it.
Vince Verhei: This game killed me. It took me at least an hour to realize that it was over, and that Seattle had lost. It wasn't the taunting penalty (between Jake Locker and Peterson, it's been a rough eight days for that sort of thing in Seattle). It wasn't the pass interference in the end zone (where the ball was intercepted six feet in front of the alleged foul). It was the fact that Seattle made J.T. O'Sullivan look like John Elway in one of those 1980 comeback games, making ugly plays to get into trouble and then big plays to get out of it. The Seahawks sacked O'Sullivan eight times and were in his face numerous other times, but he managed to miraculously slip away and find receivers for first downs over and over again.
Seattle ran their usual offense, with plenty of three- and four-wide sets, despite the lack of healthy wideouts. On one play they went five wide, with fullback Leonard Weaver lined up at the left sideline, covered by Walt Harris. They actually threw the ball his way, and the result was nearly a pick-six. That play was promptly shelved.
Earlier in the day, the 49ers ran what looked like a great screen with three blockers in front of a ballcarrier and only Leroy Hill in sight for Seattle, but nobody blocked Hill and he made a quick stop. That play gains big yards if just one guy blocks Hill. Later, the Seahawks ran a screen where Mike Wahle zoomed outside and took out Patrick Willis. At the time, it seemed like a great narrative of how one team outperformed its opponents in similar tasks. But now, who cares?
Russell Levine: Matt Ryan started this game 0-for-8 with two interceptions. Someday we should do a DVOA study of Monte Kiffin against rookie quarterbacks.
Bill Barnwell: I did the research on rookies versus Cover-2. Look for an Extra Points about it this coming week.
Russell Levine: The Bucs have been playing this game for 10 years. A team they should dominate, they have let hang around way too long. They'll probably hang on to win, but all these close games take a toll later on.
Brian Griese has been OK. No killer mistakes. But missed a bunch of open guys.
And ... Earnest Graham goes 68 yards to clinch it.
Vince Verhei: When Warrick Dunn scored his touchdown here, the guy behind me in the bar said "Dunn had a good year last year." It would seem we at Football Outsiders still have work to do.
Bill Barnwell: Which is the more damaging penalty: Twelve men on the field for a field goal attempt, or a personal foul for a facemask during a gang sack of Kurt Warner on third-and-goal? The Dolphins are about as disciplined as a teenage boy in a Victoria's Secret.
My roommate brought up a good point when the announcers were talking about rookie running back Tim Hightower having a "nose for the end zone." Have we ever done research on success rate within the 5-yard line and whether players are better at scoring within that range?
Aaron Schatz: Do you mean whether specific players are better within the 5, or whether players in general are better from the goal-to-5 as opposed to, say, the 5-to-10?
Bill Barnwell: Specific players. You know, do certain guys have a "nose for the end zone" and have a higher touchdown rate within the 5 or the 3?
Vince Verhei: I know the point of Audibles is to talk about what's not obvious in the highlights, but in this game the highlights told most of the story: The Cardinals' wide receivers are very, very good, and Miami's defensive backs are very, very bad. Anquan Boldin beat nobody for one score, one defender for another, and three guys on his third.
Tim Hightower made some nice moves on a screen pass. Rod Hood got beat on a fly pattern, but made a good play to recover and tip the ball away. Johnny Depp was there. And that's about it.
Bill Connelly: San Diego challenged a fumble call (a call that replay would have clearly overturned), and after two minutes, Ed Hochuli said the replay equipment wasn't working, therefore the call stands. Um, maybe if your replay equipment wasn't a tent with a viewfinder...
Russell Levine: Ed Hochuli just stole a win from the Chargers, ruling an obvious empty hand call an incomplete pass. San Diego recovered, but after replay they move the ball back to spot of the fumble, but Denver keeps it. They score on fourth down and got the 2-pointer for the win.
Ben Riley: Wow. Still reeling from the Hawks loss, I flip over to see:
1) Jay Cutler throw a touchdown pass to Eddie Royal on fourth-and-goal to make the score Chargers 38, Broncos 37.
2)Mike Shanahan and Jay Cutler deciding to go for two and the win, and Cutler rifling the pass in to win.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new elite quarterback in the NFL, and he hails from Vanderbilt University.
Aaron Schatz: Hochuli actually did not rule that an incomplete pass. He ruled it a fumble -- however, since he blew the whistle on the play, thinking as it happened live that it was incomplete, the San Diego recovery is apparently not allowed. Do I have that right?
Russell Levine: No, I don't think so. If he blew the whistle, he's ruling it incomplete. It was reviewed and he screwed up the announcement.
I think the call was overturned on replay, but since the whistle blew, all they could do was move the ball back to the spot of the foul.
The tragedy is, it wasn't even close. Cutler lost the ball as he was raising his arm up.
I still think replay ought to allow a change of possession on that play, when the whistle is inconsequential to the recovery. It would be a judgment call and probably muddle things, but it might save a team from getting screwed the way the Chargers just did.
Horrible, horrible mistake by Hercules.
Aaron Schatz: Nope. Here's the listing:
(1:17) 6-J.Cutler pass incomplete short right to 28-M.Pittman. The Replay Assistant challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was REVERSED. 6-J.Cutler sacked at SD 10 for -9 yards (Team). FUMBLES (Team), declared dead at SD 10.
Russell Levine: Isn't that what I said?
It was only declared dead because he blew the whistle as he ruled it incomplete.
Aaron Schatz: I think we're disagreeing on the mistake. I'm saying the mistake was blowing the whistle in the first place. I think you are saying the mistake was on the announcement of the play challenge. It's no longer an incomplete pass. It's now a sack and fumble -- but no recovery, ball simply declared dead.
Russell Levine: No, that's what I was saying too.
He called it incomplete, it was overturned to a fumble on replay, but because he called it incomplete and blew the whistle, San Diego can't get the ball, only gets the sack distance.
Just saw the replay on Football Night, and there's Hochuli in the background, immediately waving it incomplete and blowing the whistle, when it wasn't even close. Just a horrendously bad judgment by Hochuli and it absolutely cost San Diego a win.
Mike Tanier: OK, just got a long look at the Broncos play. Absolutely horrible officiating. Another example of officiating a rulebook, not a game. I have the freeze frame going right now. As Hochuli starts waving his arms, Kory Lichtensteiger and Michael Pittman of the Broncos are rushing to get the ball. Three Chargers are also trying to get it. None are close. There is no visible sign that Cutler, Lichtensteiger, or Pittman let up until the ball is already in the defender's hands. So nobody slowed down because of the whistle or stopped pursuing the play. The ref should have said, well, I blew the whistle early, but everyone was still playing the loose ball, and the only guy with a chance in hell of getting it got it. Chargers ball.
Bill Barnwell: Here's a question: Is the two-point conversion to win an optimal decision?
Aaron Schatz: I wouldn't generally call a pass play, but given that teams convert a two-pointer more than half the time, I would say yes.
David Lewin: I don't think that I've ever seen a team get luckier to win than this game. San Diego got screwed on two reviewed fumbles, the one where the replay equipment didn't work, and the terrible call by Hochuli. I have no idea what he was thinking ruling it incomplete in real time; it was incredibly obvious that it was a fumble. However, I disagree with Tanier's assertion that they should have given the ball to San Diego after review. When the whistle blows the play is over, no exceptions. If you want players to stop when the whistle blows then there cannot be any exceptions.
Also, a lot of people are going to be talking about Cutler after this game, and they should be because he was quite good, but Rivers was better. He picked Denver apart in the second half. Also, the Darren Sproles catch-and-run that put the Chargers up 38-31 was unreal. He made the Broncos defense look like they were standing still. As soon as he got into space you could tell that no one had a chance to catch him.
Vince Verhei: Jay Cutler throwing to Brandon Marshall: 18-for-20 for 166 yards.
Jay Cutler throwing to players who are not Brandon Marshall: 18-for-30 for 184 yards.
Marshall did have a fumble, which will hurt his DYAR.
I'm with Lewin on the call. It was a horrible mistake by Hochuli, but for the safety of the players, the whistle has to mean stop.
I love, love, love the decision to go for two and the win right there. Why risk losing a coin toss and watch San Diego march down the field -- again -- when you can control your own destiny? As for pass vs. run, it's clear to me that San Diego couldn't cover Marshall. I'm sure it was clear to Mike Shanahan as well.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots' tight end pass blocking is just brutal today. Cassel gets sacked three times in the first seven minutes of the third quarter.
Mike Tanier: Cassel threw together a little drive at the end though. Actually, Josh McDaniels and Kevin Faulk made the drive happen with a good screen play. But Cassel did make a play on the run to find Wes Welker at the end.
Aaron Schatz: It helps that he looked toward Randy Moss first. They're basically using Moss as a decoy today. Nice strategy, but how long does that last before we have to start psychoanalyzing the species Receiverus Primadonnus?
Mike Tanier: Adalius Thomas wasn't going to let any Favre Magic happen on that 13-yard sack in the fourth quarter, was he?
Aaron Schatz: Adalius Thomas is just having fun out there.
Sean McCormick: The Jets were badly hurt by their kicking game last week but were able to survive it. Today? Not so much. This was actually a fairly even game physically, but the Jets started every drive on the 20 and New England started every drive up around the 40. That's never going to work well, and the huge disparity in penalties exacerbated things. The Pats had a nice game plan and were able to move the ball early by attacking the Jets with a lot of horizontal passes, but eventually the defense tightened up and took those throws away, and New York started dropping Cassel with some frequency.
On defense, I thought the Pats were very sound. The big Jets passing plays mostly came when Favre was able to scramble around and move defenders out of position, then throw back the other way. Aside from that, the Pats seemed to have things pretty clamped down. It looked like the deep middle of the field was open, so I'm surprised the Jets didn't try working Dustin Keller up the seam a little bit more.
Anyway, I think the Jets should probably feel pretty good about themselves. Their front seven is much, much bigger and tougher than they were last year. They lost the game, but they didn't get manhandled the way they have in recent matchups with New England.
And yes, rumors of the Patriots' demise may well be premature.
Aaron Schatz: When they did move Keller out there, Adalius Thomas had a hard time covering him, so I'm with you there.
Some of the kicking game issues were not the Jets' fault. They can't do anything about the fact that Stephen Gostkowski had five touchbacks on six kickoffs.
Bill Barnwell: "Syndric Steptoe?" Is that something that formed from the floor in the Browns' practice facility?
Did Ike Taylor also just say he was from Swagger? Is he trying to get an Old Spice endorsement?
Mike Tanier: I love when the Steelers go three tight ends, all to one side. How primitive.
Steelers-Browns is a soggy snoozer entering the second quarter. This has not been the most exciting football-watching day of my career.
Aaron Schatz: It feels like everything Derek Anderson has thrown has fallen short. Everything seems to be sort of weak. I don't think that's the weather, right?
Mike Tanier: Finally, the Steelers are on the board. Willie Parker looks much better this year; he bounced a fourth-and-1 to the outside for a big gain.
Doug Farrar: With two minutes left in the half, Troy Polamalu leapt OVER a standing Eric Steinbach on a pitch right to Jamal Lewis. Didn't come close to making a tackle, but it was impressive in an Evel Knievel sort of way.
Aaron Schatz: This Sunday night game is boring the crap out of me. Am I being a bad NFL fan?
Doug Farrar: James Farrior just received the second bizarre taunting penalty of the day. Julian Peterson, you are not alone. Farrior was in the Steelers' defensive huddle when the penalty was called. In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going ON out there!?"
Aaron Schatz: Wow, that was some really mind-numbing clock management right there by Cleveland. First and second half.
Ben Riley: The Pittsburgh-Cleveland game was possibly the most boring game I have ever seen. Also, Romeo Crennel wins the KCW award for two straight weeks when he decides, ONCE AGAIN, to kick a meaningless field goal with 3:45 left to play that still leaves his team needing a touchdown. I can't believe I'm typing this, but maybe Easterbrook is right about coaches playing to keep the score close rather than trying to, you know, win.
144 comments, Last at 17 Sep 2008, 7:16am by Michael Turton